String Theory, David Foster Wallace on TennisAPR 18

Roger Federer

String Theory, a collection of David Foster Wallace's writings on tennis will be out next month.1 The five pieces in the book include his NY Times' essay on Federer and a 1991 piece from Harper's. John Jeremiah Sullivan wrote an introduction, which was published recently in the New Yorker.

The collection is also available on the Kindle, without the Sullivan intro.

  1. Hi, this is a footnote. Because Wallace. That's it.

Super-trippy images and animations created for The Simpsons on FXXAPR 18

I love these trippy Simpsons brand ids created for FXX by LA-based Laundry.

Simpsons

Simpsons

Simpsons

The Birth of a NationAPR 18

Written, produced, and directed by Nate Parker, The Birth of a Nation is a film about Nat Turner, the man who led a slave rebellion in Virginia in 1831. The movie won both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year and will be out in theaters in October.

P.S. If the name of the movie sounds familiar, it was deliberately given the same name as D.W. Griffith's 1915 silent film, which dramatized the formation of the Ku Klux Klan. In an interview, Parker said:

When I endeavored to make this film, I did so with the specific intent of exploring America through the context of identity. So much of the racial injustices we endure today in America are symptomatic of a greater sickness - one we have been systematically conditioned to ignore. From sanitized truths about our forefathers to mis-education regarding this country's dark days of slavery, we have refused to honestly confront the many afflictions of our past. This disease of denial has served as a massive stumbling block on our way to healing from those wounds. Addressing Griffith's Birth of a Nation is one of the many steps necessary in treating this disease. Griffith's film relied heavily on racist propaganda to evoke fear and desperation as a tool to solidify white supremacy as the lifeblood of American sustenance. Not only did this film motivate the massive resurgence of the terror group the Ku Klux Klan and the carnage exacted against people of African descent, it served as the foundation of the film industry we know today.

I've reclaimed this title and re-purposed it as a tool to challenge racism and white supremacy in America, to inspire a riotous disposition toward any and all injustice in this country (and abroad) and to promote the kind of honest confrontation that will galvanize our society toward healing and sustained systemic change.

(via trailer town)

Amazon now offering monthly Prime subscriptionsAPR 18

Amazon is now offering the ability to subscribe to Prime and Prime Video monthly rather than just yearly. Prime Video is $8.99/mo (Netflix is going up to $9.99/mo soon) and the full Prime offering is $10.99/mo. A year of Prime is still $99.

In Prime Video, Amazon has built a worthy competitor to Netflix. And it actually might be better at this point. The stable of impressive Netflix originals aside (which Amazon is also doing *cough* Transparent *cough* best show in years), Amazon allows you to rent/buy digital movies not available for free streaming1, provides discounts for subscriptions to Showtime and Starz, and (if you opt for the full Prime) offers free shipping on most stuff in the store (as well as other benefits.) I sub to both services, but if I had to make a choice right now, I'd probably stick with Amazon.

  1. What Amazon should do, to really sweeten the deal (if the movie studios would allow such a thing), is offer Prime-only discounts on renting and buying digital movies and shows. So not only would you get a bunch of free streaming movies, you can rent new-to-video movies, and they're cheaper than at iTunes. That's something that Netflix can't offer right now. I wonder if they'll add a digital video store to their offering to compete?

Animation of the Titanic striking an iceberg and sinking in realtimeAPR 18

When the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic on April 14, 1912, it took the ship 2 hours and 40 minutes to sink. I don't necessarily know why you would want to, but now you can watch a highly detailed animation of the ship sinking in realtime, all 2h 40m. I can't quite figure out if this is appropriate or not, although when I think about the inevitable realtime 9/11 version, perhaps it isn't.

Super Mario Bros speedrun record brokenAPR 18

NES player darbian just broke his own record for the fastest time through Super Mario Bros. He completed the entire game in just 4 minutes 57.260 seconds. But the most entertaining part of the video is watching his heart rate slowly creep up from 80 bpm at the beginning to ~140 bpm in World 8-2 and spiking to 171 bpm when he beats the record. (via digg)

Update: Compare that with this insane level from Mario Maker:

(via @pieratt)

A bunch of great educational-ish iPad apps for kidsAPR 15

Kids iPad apps

In this post about Minecraft yesterday, I wrote a footnote about educational-ish1 apps on my iPad:

On my iPad, I have a screen full of educational apps that the kids can work with pretty much anytime they want without asking.

I posted a screenshot of that page on Twitter, and I wanted to follow up with some App Store links as well as some links to other apps that people tweeted back at me. (Note: my kids are 6 and 8, so YMMV.)

Minecraft Pocket Edition - Duh. It doesn't do quite as much as the full versions available on other platforms, but they're improving and adding stuff all the time and the touchscreen experience is great.

The Tinybop Collection - Beautiful, fun apps. The kids most often work with The Everything Machine and Simple Machines.

Mate in 1 - A game that challenges you to find the checkmate using just one move. Ollie takes chess after school once a week, so I downloaded this for when he wants some extra practice during the week. See also Mate in 2.

Monument Valley - This is a straight-up game, but it's so well-made (I love the soundtrack) and the logic puzzles are genuinely challenging that I'm happy to let them work with this one. Ollie has made it all the way through while Minna is still on level 9. Gonna get the Forgotten Shores IAP too.

The Numberlys - This one has ceased to be educational for my kids, but it's great for the younger set.

Crazy Gears - 99 levels of mechanical puzzles involving gears.

Hopscotch - Use an intuitive drag-and-drop interface to build games. It includes many video tutorials for learning how everything works.

And here are a few recommendations from others that I am eager to try out:

Quick Math Pack - Four math apps, including multiplication, fractions, and telling time. See also Prodigy Math Game, The Counting Kingdom, the DragonBox apps.

Barefoot World Atlas - An annotated world atlas. This looks great...downloading now.

Epic! - A eBook library for kids 12 and under with 10,000 titles. A couple of very strong recommendations from people for this.

Brain It On - Draw shapes to solve challenging physics puzzles. See also LiquidSketch.

Endless Reader - For beginning readers. The same company, Originator Inc., has many other apps as well.

Professor Astro Cat's Solar System - Learn about the solar system with a cat and mouse as tour guides.

Deep Green - Top-notch chess game.

Lots of good stuff there...I've downloaded a few already. I really really wish the App Store had a try-before-you buy policy. I have no idea which of these apps the kids will actually like/play and it would be nice not to have to spend $50 to find out. Anyway, thanks to everyone who shared their favorites. Let me know if I've missed anything great!

  1. As you might have guessed from reading this here web site, I tend to have an expansive definition of what is educational. Hence, "educational-ish" to adjust people's expectations.

Speaking is DifficultAPR 15

From The Intercept and director A.J. Schnack, a simple and powerful short film about more than a dozen mass shootings that have occurred in the US since 2011.

A scene of tragedy unfolds, accompanied by fear, chaos and disbelief. As Speaking is Difficult rewinds into the past, retracing our memories, it tells a story about a cumulative history that is both unbearable and inevitable.

Fuck, that was difficult to watch. When Sandy Hook came up, I just lost it. We should be deeply deeply ashamed that that happened and we did nothing about it.

How NYC gets its waterAPR 15

NYC water tastes amazing. Better than bottled. Where does the city get such great water from?

The Catskill/Delaware watershed, which extends 125 miles northwest of the city, provides more than 90 percent of the city's supply. The rest comes from the Croton watershed.

Nyc Water Aqueduct

It can take 12 weeks to a year for water to wind its way to the city from the streams, tunnels, dams and reservoirs in the Catskills. All of it is delivered to the city by gravity alone.

"Gravity's an important friend of ours," said Mr. Rush, the deputy commissioner, explaining that it "works nonstop" and is "energy efficient."

Whoa, I had no idea the aqueduct tunneled 1000 feet under the Hudson River. Water systems have been in the news lately, both in Flint, MI and here in NYC, where Mayor de Blasio postponed work on Water Tunnel #3 and then, a day later, responding to public concern over the postponement, announced that he was going to accelerate the work on Tunnel #3.

See also David Grann's classic 2003 New Yorker piece about the NYC water system, City of Water.

The author accompanied a group of sandhogs and nine cases of dynamite six hundred feet down a shaft leading to a segment of the tunnel that lies below Tenth Ave. and 13th St. New York's invisible underground empire goes as deep as the Chrysler building is high. Tunnel No. 3 has been under construction since 1969; it will extend sixty miles, from the reservoir in Yonkers to the end of Manhattan, with various redundant loops.

Terrorism, surveillance, civil liberties... pick two?APR 14

Kurzgesagt examines what's happened to our privacy, civil liberties, and security because of the threat of terrorism.

For the Love of SpockAPR 14

For the Love of Spock is a documentary about Leonard Nimoy and the beloved character he played on Star Trek. Nimoy's son Adam is the director, the film was funded with the help of Kickstarter, and is playing at the Tribeca Film Festival this weekend (with special guest appearance by Zachary Quinto).

The inadvertent cinematography of police body camerasAPR 14

Body cameras, dashboard cams, and bystander videos all offer different views of police officers doing their jobs, which underscores the importance of perspective in skewing our perceptions of what's happening. For instance, body cams can tend to put you in the shoes of the wearer.

These details were not captured by the police body camera, though, revealing another important point: Body cameras prioritize the officer's point of view.

"When video allows us to look through someone's eyes, we tend to adopt an interpretation that favors that person," Professor Stoughton said, explaining a psychological phenomenon known as "camera perspective bias."

Thanks to Reed for sending me the link and pointing out the connection to how film directors use the camera to tell stories effectively:
The importance of composition in cinematic storytelling
and "What a film director really directs is the audience's attention." What are these law enforcement surveillance cameras inadvertently directing our attention to?

Minecraft: more than just a gameAPR 14

Minecraft Niemann

Clive Thompson's article for the NY Times about Minecraft captures what many players, parents, and teachers find exciting about the game that seems like more than just a game.

Presto: Jordan had used the cow's weird behavior to create, in effect, a random-number generator inside Minecraft. It was an ingenious bit of problem-solving, something most computer engineers I know would regard as a great hack -- a way of coaxing a computer system to do something new and clever.

In addition to learning about logic and computer science, various educators have also touted Minecraft's lessons in civics, design, planning, and even philosophy. If you've ever seen little kids playing with blocks, you've noticed that some of those potential lessons there too.

Block-play was, in the European tradition, regarded as a particularly "wholesome" activity; it's not hard to draw a line from that to many parents' belief that Minecraft is the "good" computer game in a world full of anxiety about too much "screen time."

Among the parents I know, Minecraft is not classified as a game...it's very much tied to education.1 And when listening to the kids and their friends talk about it, if you can get past the endless chatter about zombies and diamond armor, their understanding of the whole world of possibilities is quite sophisticated.

And I can't resist commenting on this little aside about Lego:

Today many cultural observers argue that Lego has moved away from that open-ended engagement, because it's so often sold in branded kits: the Hogwarts castle from "Harry Potter," the TIE fighter from "Star Wars."

Until very recently, I was in that camp of cultural observers, frustrated by the brands and paint-by-number aspect of contemporary Lego kits. But my kids play with Lego a ton and I've observed plenty of open-ended engagement going on. Sure, they sit for 20-30 minutes putting the kits together using directions, but after they're "done", the real play begins. Ollie's Star Wars ships dock at Minna's birthday party. Soon, beach goers are wearing Stormtrooper helmets and Vader's eating cupcakes. None of the "finished" products survive more than a few minutes without being augmented or taken apart to make something different. Ships take on wheels from previous kits and become delivery trucks (with cool laser cannons). Parts from every station, house, vehicle, and landscape get remixed into whatever's necessary for their dramatic play. It's like jazz with injection molded plastic.

  1. On my iPad, I have a screen full of educational apps that the kids can work with pretty much anytime they want without asking. (To play Alto's Adventure or Subway Surfer, they have to ask.) Minecraft is not on this screen -- and I had to explain my decision on this specifically to the kids -- but this article may have persuaded me to add it.

A Prank Time!APR 14

This animation is super-freaky and somewhat NSFW and you should just watch it. Also: and that's why you always leave a note. (via @gavinpurcell)

The making of ZootopiaAPR 14

From Fusion, a 45-minute documentary about the making of Zootopia.

Fusion spent two years with the production team of Disney's smash hit film. In 'Imagining Zootopia,' you will travel with the team to Africa to explore the animals in their natural habitat and find out how the storytellers and animators dealt with the very real themes of prejudice and bias.

I found this via Khoi Vinh, who writes:

A lot of careful thought went into how to render the emotional truth behind experiencing racism, and the documentary takes a detailed look at the filmmakers grappling with that. However, it also betrays one of the unfortunate truths of the production; the movie is commendably bold about addressing prejudice, but it's evident from watching the documentary that of the five-hundred plus people who contributed to the film, hardly any were non-white, and even fewer were African-American.

For a criticism of Zootopia's racial allegory, read Devin Faraci's A Muddled Mess of Racial Messaging... And Cute Animals.

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